Today, you probably know Nicholas Felton best for his most widely seen work, Facebook’s Timeline. But since 2005, he’s been working on a cult-favorite project all his own, the annual Feltron Report. The 2012 version is out now for $28.
As always, the report is a meticulously documented year in review of everything he’s done, presented in a series of rich infographics that push the boundaries on personal data quantification. With a glance, you’ll learn some of Felton’s most intimate details. Each day, he consumes coffee around 10:40am and booze around 8:38pm. He spends about 4x as much time with his girlfriend as his mother. And on June 20, he shot a Glock 22.
The report originally started as a one-off side project. The year was ending, Felton was light on freelance and he began looking through his calendar. He realized that he’d recorded every meal he’d eaten with friends, and started digging deeper. Building a report proved to be a cathartic way to tie up the year, and it got attention.
"People said, ‘I’m doing this next year!’ That sparked my competitive nature, and I said, ‘I’m going to do it too, but better!" Felton confesses with a laugh. "At a certain point, it turned into an R&D project for me."
Today, Felton uses the report to push the boundaries of visual data, coding a slew of innovative graphical treatments in Processing to convey personal metrics. And for 2012, it was time to add another level to the experiment—introducing a mobile app.
In years past, Felton kept detailed iCal notes and ran various experiments, from Internet surveys to a deep analysis of his late father’s past. This year, he partnered up with a friend, Drew Breunig, to code an iPhone app called Reporter that would simplify the life recording process. Every 90 minutes, the app buzzes Felton—automatically snagging his coordinates while asking him the same questions: Where are you? Who are you with? What are you wearing? How productive were you today (on a scale of 1-5)?
"90 minutes seemed like the optimal timing where I wasn’t still doing the same thing," Felton tells Co.Design. "If it was, it was something more consequential, like watching a movie or having a dinner party with people."
Reporter will actually make its way to the App Store later this year, but for Felton’s purposes, it was absolutely streamlined for simplicity. The bare-bones interface autofills his last update’s parameters, so if he’s stuck in a meeting, it takes but a tap to check in. And in the months of testing before he began using the app to track 2012, Felton learned an important lesson about notifications.
"I realized I had to turn off all the buzzing, vibrating, and notification chimes from every other app," he recounts. "When we started using phones, those sounds really perked our attention, like a baby crying. Now that we have so many alerts coming through, I think we’ve become kind of numb." Ramping down all that buzzing might be tough for most of us, but Felton said that he came to enjoy the "solitude" that so few notifications brought to his life.
At the same time, with Reporter’s timed sampling taking over from Felton’s old self-reporting, he found that his Feltron Report became more honest in cutting through natural bias.
"In terms of recording things previously—say drinks—water was really hard to track. I was always biased to if I had a beer because it was a more special thing, but water is something I’m generally drinking most of the time," he explains. "This was the first year I could get a grasp as to, what is my actual ratio of consumption of alcohol versus water? Previously, there had always been a drinks report, but it was only the most unhealthy drinks I’d report." (It should be noted that Felton consumed 1,484 glasses of water vs. 272 beers—mostly IPAs. He only drank a single soda, which was a Ginger Ale.)
Reporter’s sampling also cut the bias of who he was hanging out with. Previous reports skewed toward friends and family. But the 2012 report acknowledges a more simple fact of life—we spend an incredible amount of time with the coworkers who sit in the nearest cubicle (though as you dig into the report, you’ll see that co-worker time is measurably differentiable from time spent with those closest to us). And when you consider this new, algorithmically sampled version of Felton’s life, it brings about an interesting question.
As of today, we record and share many personal metrics through social media (like Facebook). But these metrics are meticulously curated. If you were to know your friends based upon the facts they reported alone, then you’d assume they ate nothing but Michelin-level dining, witnessed nothing but beautiful sunsets, and heard nothing but amusing one-liners on the train.
The latest Feltron Report, along with Reporter, make for a particularly fascinating counterpoint to the self-reported social media experience. Rather than an Instagram feed full of selfies, it’s more like a Nike+ Fuelband for your greater existence.
If you’re interested in a copy of your own, the 2012 Feltron Report is available as a limited-edition print. Just prepare yourself to get extremely close to a person you barely know.
Buy one here. Hurry though. At $28, they don’t last long.